Bosom Friends in Moby Dick
Moby Dick is an American novel written in the late 19th century by Herman Melville. The narrative follows its narrator, Ishmael, as he sets off on a whaling expedition in search of new adventure. Chapter 10, entitled “A Bosom Friend,” is one the most interesting chapters in the novel. Through Ishmael’s narration, this chapter focuses on the themes of race, relationships, and the limits of knowledge. Melville brings these central themes to light by juxtaposing the civilized with the savage in a late 19th century American setting.
The most pronounced theme in Chapter 10 is that of race and racial stereotypes. In this chapter, Ishmael relays his observations of the savage islander, Queequeg, as he watches the foreigner from afar. Ishmael’s first impression of Queequeg, revealed earlier in the novel, was not positive, reflecting the ignorance of judging a person by nothing more than what is visible on the surface. As Ishmael continues to watch Queequeg, he begins to understand that the judgements he had previously cast were indeed erroneous and begins to realize that there is more to the savage than meets the eye. This is evident in Ishmael’s statement about Queequeg,
“You cannot hide the soul. Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart...,” (Melville 44). Ishmael realizes that there is a recognizable civility within the savage and from this point his outlook toward Queequeg begins to transform from negative to positive. Melville uses this transformation to bring to light the fallacy of the racial stereotypes common in 19th century America.
Melville’s use of oxymorons in the descriptions Ishmael gives about Queequeg also helps to depict the racial stereotypes prevalent within the novel. Ishmael’s descriptions of Queequeg seem to be both contradictory and halfhearted. For every two steps that Ishmael takes forward
Cited: Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.